Families join together for support and fun

Playgroup members share common bond

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Four-year-old Shea Tomlinson needed a little help from her mom to get into a purple fairy outfit. Kaleigh Plumeau, 3, was having loads of fun pounding her hands into a red stamp pad and getting ink all over herself. At their monthly playgroup meeting last Sunday, the two girls and their dozen or so playmates were immersed in different activities, but they all share one thing in common: They are all adopted girls from China.

In March, Williston residents Susan Glickman and Lucy Kenney started the playgroup as a way for local families who had adopted Chinese girls to get together. Most of the girls are between ages 3 and 5.

“It’s important for them to see other kids that look like them and families that look like theirs,” Glickman said. Glickman is a former librarian at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library, and is the mother of three children, two of whom were adopted from China.

China first officially allowed adoption to the United States in 1992, and since then more than 55,000 Chinese children have been adopted by American families, according to U.S. Department of State statistics.

In fiscal year 2005, the U.S. government issued nearly 8,000 immigrant visas to Chinese orphans adopted into the United States.

One of those visas was for Julia Kenney, who was adopted from an orphanage in Wuhan, China by Lucy Kenney and her husband, Williston Selectman Ted Kenney.

The Kenneys hosted the playgroup last week, and Julia, along with sister Ella, also adopted from China, welcomed about 10 other families into their home.

Meredith Tomlinson of Colchester brought her daughter ,Shea, who “came home” in 2002.

“When we got home we were surprised that there weren’t any groups or organizations that got these girls together,” Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson’s response was to start an e-mail group on the Web site Yahoo! for families in Vermont who have adopted girls from China and wanted to connect with each other. She also reactivated a Vermont chapter of the national organization Families with Children from China, or FCC.

Tomlinson said about 65 families have signed up for the Yahoo e-mail list, but she has addresses for more than 100 families all over Chittenden County with adopted Chinese children.

The FCC group in Vermont holds three major events a year for families: Chinese New Year in winter; picnic at the beach in the summer; and an Autumn Moon Festival. The informal playgroup meets about once a month and has about 15-20 families involved, Lucy Kenney said.

The vast majority of orphans coming out of China are girls, due to that country’s “one-child policy.” The policy was created in 1979 as a response to massive unchecked population growth in the 1950s and 60s. It basically states that each family is allowed only one child. Subsequent births can infer civil penalties and create administrative hassles for parents. In some rural areas, if the first child is a girl, couples are allowed to have a second child. But if that child is also female, the family cannot try again.

“A lot of adopted children are second daughters,” Lucy Kenney said.

As a result of the policy, couples looking to adopt boys must usually look elsewhere.

Williston residents Scott Frederick and Betsy Hoza decided they wanted a boy and a girl for their family. After some research, they realized that China was the place to go to adopt girls, but for boys, the best place turned out to be Guatemala.

Frederick, a stay-at-home dad, brought his daughter, Emma, and son, John, both 3, to the group to play. He said there are no playgroups for adopted Latino children, but was happy to discover the Chinese playgroup.

Frederick said he and his wife met the Glickmans on a walk, and noticed their Chinese children, which eventually led to a friendship.

“Whenever you see people like that you gravitate toward them,” he said.

The group also acts as a support group for parents who are waiting to adopt.

Tracy and Carl Schneider of Essex Junction have been waiting for six months for their Chinese daughter, but recently learned they must now wait at least another three months. The Schneiders both say for them – and their biological daughter, Grace – being around other adoptive parents and kids helps them get ready for the adoption.

“You can read a thousand books,” Tracy Schneider said. “But it definitely helps to meet people firsthand.”

Tomlinson said the playgroup is important not only for parents to connect socially, but also for the girls, who are growing up in one of the most non-ethnically diverse states in the country, to have a network of friends from similar backgrounds.

“It might not be that important to them now,” Tomlinson said. “But it will be later, these connections they make as youngsters.”